E-LEARNING IN CAMEROON: HOW EFFECTIVE?
E-learning is relatively a new concept of teaching/learning that has come to stay. Many countries have come to embrace this electronic learning method without making any adequate preparations. In Cameroon the use of this type of learning has been provoked by the advent of the unpopular COVID-19 in which classes were closed abruptly with no time for school Administrator to make preparations to adequately have the students continue learning during the quarantined holiday. It later dawn on school Administrator, the Cameroon Government and parents that e-learning was a possible option. Most schools at the level of both primary and secondary did not have the contacts of the parents and therefore getting connected to them during this period was a big barrier. About fifty percent of the parents do not have smart phones even in major towns like Yaoundé which can support most of the online learning/teaching application platforms. Amongst those parents who had smart phones only a tiny fraction could be available at home on time and for some other reasons would let their children use their smart phones let alone their computers.
In some semi-urban and rural towns there is no network and electricity at all. Such infrastructure in some areas where it existed had been damaged by the ongoing Anglophone crisis in some parts of Cameroon. The teaching of computer sciences in Cameroon is geared more towards acquiring a certificate than considering computer science as a basis for teaching/ learning. In this regard even computer teachers are not necessarily comfortable with e-learning a thing that has now forced its way into the Cameroon school system.
The above difficulties and others notwithstanding some schools set up WhatsApp groups in the hope that some teaching /learning could be taking place while the children were at home. Most students used this medium more for entertainment than for the purpose for which it was intended. The teachers have no way they can follow up the progress of the learners. Airtime and the frequent power cuts too were major speed brakes in using this plat form for learning /teaching. In all the level of seriousness amongst the students differed from one student to the other. The parental assistance to the students if it ever existed was minimal. The effectiveness of e-learning is a topic for further research, this is urgent as this method of learning has come to stay forever.
To complement what individual schools were doing by way of e-learning, the Cameroon Government organised online classes on the Cameroon Radio and Television (CRTV) only for class six, form five and upper sixth classes. Selection of teachers for this program was arbitrarily done and they were charged with the task of preparing and presenting lessons on some arbitrary topics chosen by the teachers in the hope they would satisfy national need.
Teaching virtual classes was a new concept to most of the presenters. The fear of committing errors led some teachers to more errors. Colleagues who watched the lessons were not kind in the way the criticized the teachers. The feedback from the students gotten from the questions they asked showed that the initiative was worthwhile. Questions which could not be answered immediately were sent to www.crtv.wweb and their worries were later addressed. It is not possible to know what percentage of students ever checked their answers on this platform. The advantage of this platform is that students did not need to have cell phones or buy airtime. The radio has a very wide audience and when the Regional Stations re-broadcast the lessons the audience even increased further.
The major handicap with learning from CRTV was the unavailability of electricity in most localities coupled with the phobia Cameroonians have recently developed for the state media. The high frequency of power cuts even in the major cities was another handicap. This means that e-learning was discriminative in favor of the rich and discriminated between the rural and urban learners.
Schools would resume in Cameroon in June and again only for classes six, form five and upper sixth. The rest of the other classes shall continue with online classes.
The fact that online learning has come to stay has bypassed the debate phase. Corona virus which provoked e-learning shall go and I wish soonest but online classes shall stay on till thy kingdom come. What educationist need now is how to empower both the teachers and the students to be abreast with this new form of learning and teaching.
THE WAY FORWARD.
Parents should equip their children with minicomputers the same way as mathematical sets, textbooks and calculators.
The electricity network should be extended to the rural areas as much as possible and communities should be looking for alternative sources of energy.
There should be training geared towards empowering teachers with skills related to e-learning. Resources spent on this would be extremely essential for the intellectual development of Cameroon.
ICT should be made compulsory to all the students/pupils in Cameroon and school proprietors should equip computer laboratories with functional and modern computers.
Teachers should be recycled to empower them to be able to use online platforms effectively in the teaching/learning process.
Some Television and Radio stations in Cameroon could focus mainly on e-learning and teaching so that enough time can be allocated for this aspect of education. After all there are channels already allocated only for sports and politics.
Chia Oliver Ankiambom
Pinnacle of Success Academy, Yaounde